From Gray to Green

May 29, 2018

About the author: Bj Adigun is program manager for the Onondaga County Green Infrastructure Program. Adigun can be reached at [email protected].

Since 1998, Onondaga County, N.Y., has been under an amended consent judgment (ACJ) in federal court to improve water quality in Onondaga Lake and its surrounding tributaries. The ACJ outlines several key steps in preventing pollution to the lake, including the reduction of combined sewer overflow events (CSO). Under previous ACJ provisions, the county initiated several “gray” projects, including sewer separation and related efforts, to improve water quality and manage storm water runoff.

In November 2009, Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Pete Grannis announced landmark revisions to the ACJ. Under the new agreement, Onondaga County will develop both traditional gray construction projects combined with innovative “green” projects to address storm water runoff. The new plan makes Onondaga County the first municipality in the country to include the use of green infrastructure in a consent order. As a result, County Executive Mahoney established the Save the Rain campaign to develop green infrastructure throughout the community.

Lot No. 21 was the first Save the Rain parking lot project.

Green Project No. 1

The first of these new green projects is located in Syracuse, N.Y., at city parking lot No. 21. Previously, the lot incorporated traditional asphalt and impervious surface over the entire length of the property. The natural grading of the lot directs storm water from the perimeter of the lot directly to catch basins located in the center section. These catch basins would then discharge water flow directly into the sewer system. In many cases, during rain events storm water would collect in pockets along the center section and create puddling in several areas. Renovation of the lot presented a perfect opportunity for a highly visible green facelift in the heart of downtown.

Green improvements to the parking lot include several design features to collect storm water and prevent flow from reaching the sewer system. The guardrail in the center of the lot was replaced with an island containing six trees to aid in transpiration of storm water and provides shade to the lot. Water will reach the trees by way of porous pavers, and this new center island will act like a sponge, soaking up rainwater and storing it below the asphalt parking above.

The lot’s center island is part of a storage and infiltration bed.

The center island is really part of a large subsurface stone storage and infiltration bed that measures 50 ft wide by 100 ft long by 3 ft deep. This system is designed to capture approximately 462,000 gal annually, slowly discharging the captured storm water into groundwater.

The lot also received new surfacing, created six new spaces and added a new green space (3 ft wide by 170 ft long) with vegetation along the south perimeter of the property. The end result is the first green parking lot in the city of Syracuse.

More to Come

Restoration of city parking lot No. 21 is the first of several projects planned for 2010. In addition, the county and city have developed green plans for additional parking lot renovations, the Syracuse Creekwalk and more. Thanks in part to the power of teamwork, Syracuse residents can expect to see a more sustainable footprint as they travel through the city this summer.

About the Author

Bj Adigun